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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Illustrate the meaning of "Actions Speak Louder than Words" (without using the actual phrase). (02/21/08)

TITLE: Red Carnations and Black Licorice
By Julie Arduini


“I won’t be a part of this mom, I can’t.”

Mom’s tired eyes looked down to the red carnations my sister just handed her. I couldn’t look either of them in the eye so I gazed to the gazebo where dad sat. I heard a cry and realized it was my own.

“All you had to do was buy some candy. Really Tara.”

My younger sister, Bree, sounded worn out as well. Mom spoke.

“Girls, please. You’re either part of the problem or the solution. I choose to be part of the solution.”

My eyes lingered on dad. A lump grew so full in my throat I felt like it was cutting off all ability to swallow. The assisted living facility staff said the gazebo was dad’s favorite place to go on a nice day. He’d shuffle out and watch the birds gather around the various feeders. Today he wasn’t alone.

“Anyone coming with me?”

Mom’s hold on the carnations was so strong it was bending the stems. Bree stood up, walking close enough to nudge me to action. I sighed, wishing I had the licorice only so I’d have something to occupy my hands.

“Tara, could you hold on me as we walk? I’m feeling frail this afternoon.”

Bree and I came alongside mom. We each took the crook of her arm and escorted her to the gazebo. Tulips were in full bloom, the scent intoxicating. When we reached the first step to enter the gazebo, dad looked up and smiled.

“Well hello there, I’m Max. Who are you lovely ladies?”

Bree took her free hand and placed it on dad’s shoulder.

“Daddy it’s us. Mom, Tara and me, Bree. We’re here to visit.”

“I love visitors. Did you bring black licorice? Did you come to visit Iris too?”

Dad gestured to the woman sitting on the bench next to him. I recognized the woman’s lavender shawl. It used to be mom’s. I cleared my throat. Mom took a wobbly step forward.

“Max, its Anna. Iris, hello. That shawl looks beautiful on you.”

Iris beamed, touching the purple fringe. She made a pouty face and sighed.

“Thank you. I love it but I don’t know where I got it. Maybe Max got it for me. Did you, sweetheart?”

Dad took her hand and squeezed it. A tear ran down his cheek.

“I don’t recall Iris. I hate that I can’t remember.”

Mom wiped her own tears and sat on dad’s other side.

“Max, when I was here last time I remembered you said Iris liked flowers. I brought some. Would you like to give them to her?”

I turned away, my head throbbing, my tears so hot I thought they would scald my face. Bree wept as she sat on the other side of Iris. Dad took the flowers and smelled them.

“Red carnations. These sure look familiar. Someone loves these flowers; I’m not sure who though. Anna? Do you love red carnations? How do we know each other again?”

Mom patted his knee. For someone who felt so weak I never knew someone so strong.

“Oh Max, we go way back. We’re very close. I’m happy to see you doing so well. I think every woman loves flowers.”

“Yes, but red carnations? They just seem extra special somehow.”

Dad seemed tired as he tried to recall why those flowers would be important. Inside his room were pictures of us through the years. Red carnations dotted our memories. He gave some to mom on their wedding night and each anniversary until the diagnosis. Red carnations were what Bree’s prom date gave her. They were part of my wedding bouquet. The flower was such a part of our family history.

“Well for such a special flower, you should give them away. Would you like that?”

Dad wistfully nodded and took three carnations out. He handed nine to Iris, who squealed.

“Oh Max what a thoughtful thing to do. I’ll cherish them forever. You are the best boyfriend.”

Mom smiled through the tears. Dad reached across to Bree.

“Here young lady, I’m sorry I can’t remember your name but with such a special flower, I think it’s only right each of you receive one.”

We each took our carnation before saying goodbye and leaving. None of us spoke on the way back to mom’s.
The next day I returned alone. I brought red carnations for Iris and black licorice for dad.

*Based on the About.com marriage article on Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and her family’s decision to share this often untold Alzheimer’s story.

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This article has been read 871 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Seema Bagai 02/28/08
This entry brought tears to my eyes. Beautiful and sad.
Beth LaBuff 02/29/08
Wow! -- so sad. Alzheimer’s seems so cruel. I love the red carnation connection to the family. What a strong woman the Mom was. It was a beautiful act when she encouraged her husband to give the red carnations to Iris. Your writing just flows in this wonderful piece. This is absolutely beautiful! Thank you for your end note (I'd never heard this before.)
Jan Ackerson 03/01/08
I'd heard the story that you based this on, and found it such a powerful example of grace...you've written a beautiful, beautiful story, absolutely heart-rending, but such a wonderful picture of inceasing love. *gulp*
Mariane Holbrook 03/02/08
How beautiful! How utterly beautiful, both the story and your writing of it. (wiping tears away)
Loren T. Lowery03/05/08
This is a beautiufl story, wonderfully told. All kinds of emotions are tugging at the heart strings. Among other things to admire is the bravery and love of the wife and gentle soul of the husband, who even not remembering, has never forgotten how to give.
Cheri Hardaway 03/05/08
"For someone who felt so weak I never knew someone so strong." This was my favorite line.

God indeed buoys us up and gives us strength we never knew we could have, when we face situations we could never imagine being in.

This is a powerful and touching story, and it is something I never heard about Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Thank you for sharing!

Blessings, Cheri
Patty Wysong03/05/08
What a beautiful story of lasting love. Very well done--I could feel their love and their sadness. Soooo good!
Sara Harricharan 03/05/08
I didn't know this was based on a true story! Wow. The red carnations. This was so different. So sad. You told it well through the MC's eyes and especially using the title with the Red carnations and the black licorice. Really good writing! ^_^
Lyn Churchyard03/05/08
What an amazing example of the topic. Very well written, the descriptions, feelings and dialogue all first class. Well done, well done.
Joshua Janoski03/05/08
Alzheimers is such a terrible disease. I was not aware of this true story. I am going to look up the story, but I doubt that it will be as well written or as emotionally charged as this wonderful piece that you have written. One of my favorites this week. :)
Debbie Wistrom03/05/08
Thanks for sharing this touching tale. I marvelled at the wife, how strong she was to keep coming back while knowing what was in store.
Sara Harricharan 03/07/08
***Congrats on making the top 40, Julie!*** Awesome writing!
Betsy Markman09/17/08
Wow...incredibly well done. So much emotion packed into relatively few words. Remarkable.